Week 6: The order of here-and-now
By Songwha Choi
I was walking in front of the student center in the evening when I noticed that the streetlight was reflecting bright light.
A standing streetlight
In this week, we discussed the order of here and now. It was hard to understand the concept of this week’s subject because it is abstract to me. However, The Bodhisattva Cycle is strongly impressive to me. When I fail a plan A, I get so frustrated by my failure. After that, I think about a Plan B which I can try to figure out my problems in a different way, and I realize that the plan B is actually better than the plan A. My view toward the world is so limited, so I cannot know that which option is better for me before I do it. If my life always goes direct way, it will be not meaningful. Accepting diversities is very important in our lives because we can learn from them (lecture 02/25/13). Sometimes, because of diverse failures and frustrations, I can grow up and get good lessons.
Bosho in his book, The Narrow Road to The Deep North also tries to accept the diversities of nature. When I read the book, I felt Basho knows the real meaning of a wonder of nature. It makes Basho’s life beautiful because he can appreciate his life. “I myself have been tempted for a long time by the cloud-moving wind-filled with a strong desire to wander” (Basho 97). While he wanders Japan’s remote northeastern region of Tohoku, he enjoys being lost in thought. When he stops overnight at the Zenshoji Temple, he writes about autumn wind. “All night long, I listened to the autumn wind…” (Basho 136). The autumn reminds of image of death, so I realized that Basho feels lonely and sentimental about the nature. However, Basho looks as if he enjoys the loneliness. “I was very lucky to find in such a lonely place” (Basho 120). Because of his lonely life, he could be friend with nature, and write a wonderful poem. His loneliness makes him contemplate on his life, nature, and God. He has tried to trust the divine providence in the nature. “The gods seemed to have possessed my soul and turned it inside out” (Basho 97). God gives us the here and now, so we should know the precious value of the moment. Life is too short to be wasted.
no poem this week.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North was particularly impressive because of Basho’s simple yet incredibly expressive way of describing his simple feelings and interactions with the nature. Still having Saikaku’s A Women Who Loved Love and the conception of hedonist woman as the bad woman on my mind, the part where Basho described spending a night under the same roof with two prostitutes caught my attention. Mostly because of what they tell to Basho before they leave. Women ask Basho and Sora if they could follow:
” We feel so uneasy and depressed at the thought of the difficulties that may await us on the way to an unfamiliar place that we would like to follow behind you” (Basho 119).
What is simply and overtly phrased here is the feeling that makes us dread the present for the fear of future. I believe it is this very feeling that keeps us in the burning house. Although it burns at least we know it burns. The feeling of control and familiarity becomes preferable to a looming, unknown alternative. Yet in the face of constant changing world, these woman’s depression seems to stand the completely against from the logic of Here and Now.
Yet as opposed to the discussion of hedonism, making present pleasurable In this week’s lecture The Bodhisattava Cycle wants us to leave the house, wonder, traverse through the path of sorrow so that we can learn to value what your initial position. (Lecture 3/25) . It is so that to go through two part and achieve the zen on the order of here and now, we must practice a sort of abstinence by saying no to the enlightenment, turn away from the truth we have been seeking, to settle down. But why say no to an higher order if we are focused on experiencing the present. It might be because in the world of Mono No Aware, enlightenment and truth are not the things that makes one necessarily happy. Truth is dangerous. That is why sometimes we ignore the truth.
Also on a random note, it is incredibly intriguing to know that there is a town (page 131) called:
“Parents Forget Their Children, Children forget their Parents, Dogs Turn Back, Horses Return”
By Michael Chu
On Sunday morning, I was lying on bed and didn’t want to wake up until I heard the bird chirp.
According to Basho, the only way to perceive the unchanging and the ever-changing is through the sincerity of a refined heart (Inouye 74). Having written several haikus now, I understand the importance of the sincere heart because without truly feeling the moment, it is hard to write good poetry. It is with sincerity that Basho “felt as if [he] were in the presence of the ancients themselves…rejoiced in the utter happiness of this joyful moment, not without tears in [his] eyes” (Basho 113). In my opinion, Basho’s overflow of emotions in The Narrow Road to the Deep North, is the result of him achieving compassion in the Bodhisattva cycle. Yet, his concreteness displayed in his poems such as in the line “Bush-clovers and the moon” (Basho 132) showed that he returned to the low, or “commonplace,” in Chōmei’s term (Inouye 79). The line demonstrates the idea of “awakening to the high and returning to the low” with the moon and the bush clovers representing the high and low respectively (Inouye 80). The more you pursue the truth, the more sorrow you get (Lecture 2/25). Then why pursue truth when it is hard to give others their own knowledge in truth after you have returned to the low? Why go through the unnecessary trouble of getting more sorrow when we can just enjoy ourselves every day? In reference to the mountain climbing analogy mentioned in class, perhaps the accomplishment of reaching the high and overcoming sorrow is even more gratifying than everyday happiness. Time to motivate myself even more and go through all the sorrow of homework.
Driving down the highway in New Jersey in the evening, with flakes of snow furiously blown into the windshield.
Illuminated by headlights
Streaks of snow
[No image posted this week]
One of the things that struck me the most about Japan when I first visited was the overwhelming emphasis on appearance – the intricate hand-wrapped packaging, the flawlessly round melons that cost 5000 yen, carefully applied makeup that almost every woman seemed to be wearing, and ubiquitous uniforms. Why is it that in Japan, so much emphasis is placed on imposing formality on evanescence? Or in the phrasing of our discussion this week, why is there such an emphasis placed on ordering the “here-and-now,” which by definition will be gone the next instant? To help answer this question, we turn to the haikai poetry of Matsuo Basho. Haikai poetry, while bound by strict rules and conventions (the 5-7-5 syllable count), represents a “lyrical blending of the poet’s emotions with all elements of [the] context” (Inouye 74). Basho calls this fueki ryuko (不易流行), with the first half of the term referring to the unchanging form of the poetry and the latter half referring to the sincere emotion experienced by the poet when faced with the lyrical moment. As human beings, we have an intense desire to identify with our surroundings and achieve what Basho theorizes as butsuga ichinyo (物我一如) – becoming one with our surroundings (Inouye 76). A few weeks ago we discussed michi in the form of various “michi” or “dō” – jūdō, kendō, kōdō. Perhaps these disciplines are the functionally the same as Basho’s road (michi) in pursuing the state of butsuga ichinyo. So why is it that all of these, from Basho’s poetry to traditional martial arts, emphasize form? This question reminds me of a movie I watched many years ago named The Legend of 1900, about a pianist born on a cruise ship and never leaves. In one of the pivotal scenes of the movie, he eloquently describes the concepts that we have been discussing: “Take a piano. The keys begin, the keys end. You know there are 88 of them and no-one can tell you differently. They are not infinite, you are infinite. And on those 88 keys the music that you can make is infinite…But if that keyboard is infinite there’s no music you can play.”
Nothing this week.
I enjoyed reading Bashō’s poems this week, though I wish we had read them earlier because I think they would have really helped me construct my own weekly poems. That said, it’s good that we have them now as an example and I think I have a much better idea of what is expected. Most of Bashō’s poems “centered on evanescence and form” (Inouye 74). A great example and a poem I really liked that was never discussed in class is “The changeable sky/Of the northern districts/Prevented me from seeing/The full moon of autumn” (Bashō 141). In my mind this captures the image of the night sky perfectly and also is a great example of how the evanesce of nature (the changing clouds in the sky) interacts with its form. Even though Basho could not see the moon, he knows that it’s full because of the time of the year. He termed this relationship as “fueki ryukō, the unchanging and the ever-changing” (Inouye 74). Fueki ryukō also describes his journey; as he travels and sees new sights his journey is constantly changing. “As firmly cemented clam-shells/Fall apart in autumn/So I must take to the road again/Farewell, my friends” (Bashō 142). Each location he stays at becomes a new clam-shell, only to be destroyed by the incoming autumn of his departure. In the end though his journey closely resembles “kōgō kizoku” or “awakening to the high and returning to the low” as we watch him search for enlightenment while still intended to one day return to the home he left (Inouye 80). This concept reminds me a lot of my own journey through college and how I temporarily left my home in California to study in Boston. Whether or not I’ll returned as enlightened as Bashō is still unclear…
Saturday I went to the Fells and climbed to the top of this hill of huge boulders; I sat still and watched the tall evergreen trees slowly swaying.
Breaking through the winter sky,
I was intrigued, once more, by the paradoxes surrounding our discussion last week about permanence, evanescence, self, and selflessness. Basho writes, “How still!/Piercing into the boulders,/ The cry of the cicada” [Inouye p.74]. Professor points out that “[i]n this poem, the ephemerality of the cicada’s song  is contrasted with the solidity of rocks” [p.74]. This kind of juxtaposition is again seen in his poem “A thicket of summer grass/ Is all that remains/ Of the dreams and ambitions/ Of ancient warriors” [ Basho p.118]. The grass lingers, as the warriors’ selves and their self-induced trifles disappear. This poem speaks even more loudly as it makes the point the nature outlasts all human activity and meaning. Perhaps this is what Basho understands; He seeks selflessness as a way to escape from the evanescence of human existence and connect to the natural world. What is selflessness and how does it do this? Selflessness is the “unity of thing [or object] and self” [Inouye p.77]. To me, this means that the quick-to-label mind is silenced, and so perceptive awareness opens; this awareness is a mirror. I would also say that the perceived, the trees, the rock, the other, is also a mirror. And so when the opened awareness meets the perceived and become one, eternality, infinity emerges-like the Mise en abyme between two facing mirrors. Eternality amidst evanescence. But Basho still “was a self-concerned poet” as his writing has self awareness and makes reference to a self[Inouye p.77]. But I do not see this as a flaw in his advocation of selflessness; instead, I see it as a fundamental reality of this realm of existence. The fact that awareness is infused within individual bodies with individual minds cannot be escaped while alive; Basho only attempts to live rooted in this this larger awareness, rather than the transient individual self. In his poem “ Under the same roof/ We all slept together,/Concubines and I-/ Bush-clovers and the moon”, I think this can be revealed. The roof they sleep under is Awareness, or I would even say emptiness. When we live in the perception of the individuated and limiting self that stems from the mind, the concubine and Basho, and the moon and clovers are worlds apart, sharing nothing. But under this Awareness, the concubine and Basho are of the same, just as a the moon and the clovers exist in this realm equally. I think this understanding is the root of all compassion.
Yesterday, around evening, it suddenly went from a warm sunny day with flurries to a cold damp rain, and I became morose.
I remember the soft snow
drifting down through the sunlight
before the sky went dark
I want to talk about my difficulty with the weekly assigned poems. I know they’re certainly not the same caliber as the ones written by Basho, but this is more of a question concerning process. You say in your book that “much artifice went into the writing” and that their creation did not “necessarily happen as noted.” (Inouye, 74) But in class you express that they are spontaneous works of emotion. My problem, though, is that I have always expressed my emotional elation in traditional prose, and the poems themselves don’t really *happen* organically. Instead, I take a sort of mental image, and spend a long time afterward trying to remember it as well as possible. Is there a better way? Moving on, I like that he dressed like a priest, but “was neither a priest nor an ordinary man,” because that’s what the protagonist of Preacher does to indicate he is a man who lives to aid his fellow men, rather than a man of god. (Inouye, 79) Sora, on the other hand, strikes me as a an oddly religious fellow. He names himself “religiously enlightened” (Basho, 101) , and drifts into concepts of gods, holiness, and the divine in his later poems. Specifically, “What divine instict/ has taught these birds/ no waves swell so high/ as to swamp their home?” (Basho, 130) Which is kind of funny, because of course birds’ nests get swallowed by waves! You just can’t TELL there have been any nests there. I also wanted to point out something another student mentioned in class. The poem on 132 concerning “concubines and I-/ bush-clovers and the moon” seems to me to mean that he identifies so closely with the concubines and their earthly profession, that all of them are simply beautiful bushes undearneath the midnight moon.
When I was walking home one night while the sun was setting, I was standing near Carmichael Hall on a part of the hill where you can see pretty far off into the distance.
The last glimpse of daylight
Glows pink around the buildings—
The sky fades to dark.
In reading The Narrow Road to the Deep North, I saw conflicting ideas between what we have learned (that there is no such thing as self) and Basho’s self-conscious journey to answer questions such as who am I? “For Basho, an ever-changing reality lended itself to the obliteration of difference that, in turn, created a poetic consciousness, or a creative self in this limited sense,” (Inouye 79). I feel like it makes some sense to define self because if there were no designation of what self is, then how would we know there is no such thing as self? Basho’s journey was in search of enlightenment that he came to experience through his travels; “Roadside images seemed to invite me from every corner, so it was impossible for me to stay idle at home,” (Basho 97). Basho was travelling to seek enlightenment, but there were also concubines travelling, who Basho compares to bush clovers and he is the moon. Although they are so far apart, they exist in the same reality. Basho tells them, “Go as travelers go.” (Basho 132). In a way, we’re all travelers—everything and everyone and there is nothing permanent in this world. “A thicket of grass is all that remains of the dreams and ambitions of ancient warriors.” (Basho 118). This is the beauty of nature. The cycle of life and death is ongoing, but nature remains the same. “I am awestruck to hear a cricket singing underneath the dark cavity of an old helmet.” (Basho 134). Although the warrior died and decayed, there is new life under the helmet. With all these experiences Basho had on his journey, I can understand why it is difficult to pass this enlightenment on to others. But I wonder then, how can those who find enlightenment come back to reality and help others who are in the burning house if it is so difficult to pass on the truths? I guess everyone has to find these truths themselves and can only find enlightenment through means of experience.
I went indoor climbing on Wednesday night and right as I was about to reach the top of a wall, I fell onto the soft mat below me and stayed there for about 2 minutes before getting back up.
The mat underneath me -
The last grip,
I feel nothing.
As we studied Basho this past week, I am most interested in the way evanescence and form play such an important role in his work. In many ways, Basho combines elements of modernity, and what preceded the modern (Lecture, 2/25). Professor Inouye said it best when he wrote “His haiku were meant to be inclusive without being vulgar, and modern without being dismissive of tradition. They express change as truth and truth as change” (Inouye, 75). I agree with this statement as I read many of his poems and travel stories in The Narrow Road to the Deep North. It’s not so much that the subject matter of his poems are novel, but he writes with a certain, for lack of a better word, inclusiveness, which tells the truth but is not “vulgar,” as Professor Inouye notes. For example, Basho writes, “ I am awe-struck / To hear a cricket singing / Underneath the dark cavity / Of an old helmet” (Basho, 134). Here, he is inclusive in that he alludes to the battle of the Minamoto and the death of Atsumori, but abides by the tradition of simplicity in Japanese poetry by not being too descriptive. It’s interesting that within these lyrical moments, when Basho combines the modernity of truth and the tradition of form, Professor Inouye believes that “Basho was a self-concerned poet even as he advocated selflessness” (Inouye, 77). This was a difficult concept to grasp at first, but I love these contradictions that I keep finding within every aspect of Japanese culture. I honestly do believe that in ordered to be selfless, you must first be selfish; the desire to reach a higher state, for example, is technically a selfish desire, yet it’s the only way to retreat from that state and achieve selflessness. Basho achieved this in his poetry and prose, giving us insight into how we can potentially follow this same journey.
While at Harvard this past weekend I felt surrounded by buildings made of brick, just as crimson as they were when I last saw them years ago.
How many clouds have passed you,
Bricks of veritas?
“Why climb the mountain? To return to the valley” (Lecture 6/15) As I thought about this statement and Bashō’s journey I reflected on my experience Tufts Wilderness Orientation. Every mountain I climbed was a struggle, but the hills of trees, rolling clouds, and sunsets were worth it. The movement behind Bashō’s poetry was to enter nature and through it give poetic truth to verse. The result was mood created by nature rather than one’s emotions (Inouye 77). Rather than think of myself, I was filled with my scenery. How many trees there were, how the sun lingers in leaving yet rushes to return. At the end of the trip I left the wonderful wilderness and descended back to the city. While this wasn’t Enlightenment, I felt enlightened and shared my experience with those who were unable to take my same journey. Coming back to the present though, I reflected on Bashō’s point of emphasizing change being a necessary component to art. He says that artists need to follow and return to Creativity (Inouye 78). This idea pushed the rigid boundaries of current poetry in Japan, but I think it is imperative to all art forms. If art was only constrained, defined, or replicated then there still would be beautiful works of art. Though art under these restraints will stifle out the beauty in front of us that we may have never thought of.